The Horseshoe Tavern, The Horseshoe, The ‘Shoe – all the names patrons have called this legendary, iconic building over the years.
Also iconic are the artists that have played there; it was a country haven in a town like TO that favored R&B clubs.
The continuing rumor that Hank Williams graced the stage when it really was Sneezy Waters and The Show He Never Gave.
Like the Queen Street strip that has been its home for seven decades, the Horseshoe Tavern continues to evolve. It remains as relevant today as it did when Jack Starr founded the country music club on the site of a former blacksmith shop, probably the reason it was called The Horseshoe Tavern. From country and rockabilly to rock ‘n’ roll, punk, alt/country, and back to roots music, the venerable live music venue has evolved with the times and trends — always keeping pace with the music.
Within that plethora of artists there was also the colorful staff and regulars of the Horseshoe. Teddy Fury, drummer for Toronto’s original rockabilly band, The Bopcats, has held court at the main bar for decades. (The book features his background and story as well.) For many years the pool room dominated the main floor, and regulars who sat at that bar had their own pool cues in bags alongside them. Later, the Horseshoe would be cut in half and made smaller on the main floor. The transitions this nightclub had experienced also included; when it went from country to punk, the famous Two Garys becoming the bookers, X-Ray and friends, and Stagger Lee’s when the Horseshoe was on the brink of bankruptcy. But somehow it survived, was renamed The Horseshoe, and to this day it is still a stage that new indie acts strive to play the Saturday night slot, working their way up from the weekday position.
Over its long history, the Horseshoe has seen a flood of talent pass through. From Willie Nelson to Loretta Lynn, Stompin’ Tom Connors to The Band, and Bryan Adams to the Tragically Hip, the Horseshoe has attracted premier acts from all eras of music.
In The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern, David McPherson captures the turbulent life of the bar, and of Canadian rock and how it evolved in the Big Smoke. McPherson this complete history of Toronto’s legendary Horseshoe Tavern, “the Birthplace of Canadian Rock,” to coincide with its seventieth anniversary.
Catching up with author David McPherson, we asked what made him explore the history of this Toronto landmark and put it into print. “I always wanted to write a book about music and this was my first one so I have to say it has been an amazing experience. Dundurn has been a very supportive publisher to work with and the outpouring of support through interviews, artists and my peers have been humbling.”
Why a book on The Horseshoe Tavern? “I moved to Toronto from Waterloo and spent 17 years in TO and throughout those years I subsequently spent many nights at the Horseshoe. When I realized it was going to turn 70 years old that is when the idea came to me. As luck would have it, I was in the Dakota Tavern one night and friend of mine gave me the contact at Dundurn. They were actually looking for more music books, so after that initial contact, it all went fairly fast. I then talked to the current owners of The Horseshoe and with their blessing they gave me the fast track to contact information for previous owners. It made my mission happen with more expediency.”
The introduction of the book is by Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy. “He seemed like the perfect choice and I reached out to his management and he agreed. He was the first one to read it and I felt like it gave the book more credibility.’ Cuddy who tells the tale of when Blue Rodeo was young and all they wanted was to play the Horseshoe. The venue is still a place that has marquis value for up and coming acts all wanting to able to say they played at the legendary stage.
Do you have plans for a second book? “I do have something in mind, but right now I want to focus on getting this book out to as many platforms as possible. It isn’t about me as an author, it is about preserving history in the music scene. I hope by writing this book I have done so.”
So many stars have passed through those doors and many of their quotes and stories are in this detailed book.
David McPherson does an amazing thing with this affectionate and informative book about the “Legendary Horseshoe Tavern.” As someone who has performed there and attended countless shows there over the years, it made me feel like I was a witness to something much bigger and more integral to the history of Toronto’s ever-changing music scene.
David McPherson has captured the soul and the sweat, the joy and the chaos of the hands-down greatest music parlor in Canada. This book takes you on a journey that began before rock ’n’ roll and keeps the ghosts humming with you long past closing time. From Stonewall Jackson to the Last Pogo the spirit that is the Horseshoe lives in these pages.
In 1986, moving from Montreal, between late nights at Rock ’N’ Roll Heaven and equally late nights at the Horseshoe Tavern, my initiation into the Toronto music scene began. David McPherson has encapsulated that remarkable feeling of what the ’Shoe brought to me and countless other rabid music fans; fans that knew that it was almost as much the spirit of the venue as it was the live music you saw there that made the ’Shoe the legend that it is.
At a time when music venues are under attack by gentrification and development, the Horseshoe remains immortal. I’ve long wondered what those checkerboard floors would say if they could talk. Now they can.
Editors Note: And talk these walls do right here in these pages. Buy the book, it is chock full of stories, photos and some very unknown facts any music lover should know. A collector’s item any music fan would love to own.
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